Indoor pools are a quietly thrilling, eerie experience for me. The humid, chlorine heaviness in the air, that echo—of splashing water and wet feet slapping on tile: these take me right back to my youth, to the fun, embarrassment and terror I associate with adolescent pool experiences. This is the perfect headspace to appreciate this brief, meditative reflection on bullying and adult responsibility.
DEEP END is one of the Toronto Fringe Festival’s site-specific shows. In the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre Pool, you’re invited to a birthday pool party. The whole class is invited, even the poor girl that nobody likes. Shoes and socks must come off as you’ll be watching the drama unfold from poolside benches.
One by one, each of the characters share their inner thoughts and reveal key personality quirks. They’re familiar. You know them. There’s the boy who’s self-conscious about his body. The confident athlete eager to flaunt his. There’s the rich and entitled birthday girl and her current best friend, a germaphobe who’s paranoid about the pool water. Though they each have amusing quirks that we can relate to, they prove themselves to be chillingly apathetic.
And then there’s poor Lilly, whom they don’t give a chance to speak.
We catch brief glimpses into their lives as squabbles erupt around the pool. Hovering dejectedly away from the rest is the constant, lonely outsider—Lilly. Some begin to taunt her, while others ignore both her and the harassment. We know things are going to take a bad turn when, en masse, all they all tell us it “wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
What makes DEEP END so effective is this dismal feeling of inevitability that begins to cloud everything we see and hear. When things go from cruel to deadly, it happens so quietly, so easily, that I felt myself disassociate from the reality of it.
The cast (Alyssa Pothier, Tatyana Mitchell, Terri Pimblett, Aris Tyros, Rami Khan, and Natalie Mogan) provide brief, telling details that define these characters. We don’t get much quality time with most of them, so co-writer/director Armon Ghaeinizadeh establishes small, telling details in dialogue and behaviour.
Finally, the Lilly character gets a chance to talk to us, to tell her story. It’s almost a defeatist sermon, a challenge to the “it get’s better” assurances that adults pass down to struggling youth. The most chilling aspect of this segment, for me, was my inability to argue with it.
There are some haunting, challenging ideas packed into DEEP END’s short run time.